Bussing for a Change

8 Jul

A man wearing a dirty gray t-shirt and a pair of uneven, cut-off khakis walks up the steps of the #19 bus that travels back and forth from Edwardsville to Collinsville. The fare is a dollar and a half, but the man, who I guess is five years younger than he looks, is fifty cents short. As I reach for my pocket, the bus driver waves his hand and says something I can’t hear. The man says thanks and sits down behind me.

On a different day, again as I sit on an idling bus, I overhear a conversation between three young men. I don’t hear everything, but I do learn that they’re all traveling to the courthouse in Edwardsville. The youngest mentions how much it sucks not having a car; the other two vehemently agree, while the oldest adds something like, “That ain’t no joke, man.” From what I gather from the end of their discussion, they all have a common, near-term goal: securing four-wheeled, gasoline-powered transportation.

I like to think that the oily mess in the Gulf of Mexico is forcing people to rethink their driving habits. Each day on the bus I search for signs: people in business attire carrying briefcases, overheard rants on our country’s oil addiction, unfamiliar people asking if they’re on the right bus, but each day I’m left disappointed.

A year before the spill, our 2008 Honda Element began to collect dust in the garage. There was nothing wrong with it–the engine purred; the tire tread looked great; heck, it still had the new car smell–I was just taking the bus instead. Each weekday morning my daughter and I rode our bikes to the bus route in Maryville, secured our two wheelers to the bike rack on the nose of the bus, rode to downtown Collinsville, and then traveled on our bikes the rest of the way to her Pre-K class. Three hours later we executed the same routine in reverse.

On the bus I feel like a detective. I want to open my notebook and interview other riders; I want to ask each person: “Why are you riding the bus today?” Though my reserved nature would never allow such blatant intrusion of privacy, I think I already know what I would find in my investigation. The clues give it away. I see poverty, addiction. I overhear a conversation here, a fragment there.

Although the Madison County Transit provides many invaluable services, I would like to conduct a test on my fellow bus riders. On the #19 tomorrow I will wave a magic wand to reinstate driver’s licenses, restore faded vision, heal the sick, and manifest cars for the needy in a great puffs of smoke.

The results? Sadly, most of my fellow bus riders will disappear–not in puffs of smoke, the magic analogy is over–they just won’t be stepping onto the bus any time soon.

According to the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey, 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, 40 percent of all trips are within two miles of the home, and 50 percent of the working population commutes five miles or less to work. Yet more than 82 percent of trips five miles or less are made by personal motor vehicle.

Of course, driving ourselves to school–or anywhere–is more convenient, but I have a difficult time believing that the convenience of one person is more important than precipitating a shift in behavior, setting an example–a new model of transportation–that others will see and possibly emulate.

As one inconvenienced human being copies another, learning the bus routes, leaving the car keys on the hook one day a week, then two, three; it will snowball until one day we all realize that driving alone in a car, in the big picture, was no convenience at all.

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